ISLAMABAD, June 27: Coming to the defence of intelligence agencies, Secretary Defence Nargis Sethi urged the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights to support, guide and protect the military especially when it was under considerable domestic and foreign pressure.

“These are changing times for Pakistan for the better. There is already plenty of hostility against the agencies. In my six months with the Ministry of Defence, I have realised that we can’t blame agencies for every wrong committed,” Ms Sethi told members of the committee, “the military is doing its best under difficult circumstances.”

The meeting was called after requisitions made by Senators Farhatullah Babar, Farhat Abbas, Sardar Ali Khan and Mushahid Hussain Syed to deliberate over violations of human rights, particularly enforced disappearances.

While the proceedings saw a heated debate between the defence secretary and the members of the functional committee, it did end with the formation of a sub-committee to push for a draft legislation to make operations of the agencies transparent and propose legislations to make enforced disappearances a cognisable offence.

At the start of the proceedings, the Chair of the Committee, Afrasiab Khattak, described enforced disappearances as a symptom of grave ailment because most offices were not accountable despite so much reaction at the highest levels.

Ms Sethi blamed the Frontier Corps under the Ministry of Interior for most cases of disappearances.

“Nonetheless, we will admit mistakes we make. And we will give directives not to engage in illegal activities,” the Ms Sethi said urging members to join hands.

At the same time, Ms Sethi made clear that it was not in her jurisdiction to bring agencies under the ambit of law.

“Budget, resources and strategic direction and policies are some of the areas that come under the Ministry of Defence,” she elaborated. Ms Sethi also explained that time and again she had urged the leadership to make necessary amendments in the Anti-Terror Act 1997.

To ease the tense environment, Senators Sardar Ali Khan and Mushahid Hussain Syed clarified that the meeting was not about ‘khaki or military bashing’ but to right a few wrongs.

Senator Mushahid Hussain urged that the subject of human rights, such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, be made compulsory in all civil and military training institutions, particularly the military academies.

The Functional Committee took serious notice of the issue of enforced disappearances, and adopted a resolution proposed by Senator Farhatullah Babar calling upon the government to sign and ratify the international convention for protection of all persons against enforced disappearances.

“Enforced disappearances are the number one human rights issue and if not addressed they will breed severe resentment between the civil society and the military,” said the chair.

Demanding of the government to bring the agencies under the ambit of law, Senator Afrasiab Khattak said, “There is a problem and denial is not a solution. It has been pointed out at some of the highest levels including the Supreme Court the role of agencies in transgressing law. And those involved in this offence must be held accountable.”

Earlier the Functional Committee deliberated the two reports on the enforced disappearances by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence.

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